IP announcement stuns downtown

Published 8:57 am Friday, October 23, 2009

FRANKLIN—As news of International Paper Co.’s plans to close its Franklin mill and axe over 1,100 jobs spread Thursday, shock and devastation were common emotions downtown.

“I can’t believe it. I’m just shocked,” said Andree Holland, a former mill employee. He said he learned the news from a text message from a friend.

Standing on Main Street Thursday afternoon, Calvin Newsome of Franklin said that he knows a lot of people who work at the mill.

“Families depend on that. I feel sorry for the families,” he said. “The people that have been working there for years, that’s all they know.”

He also said that the closure will be felt throughout the entire city and region.

“It’s going to hit hard,” Newsome said. “IP contributes to most everything in this town. It’s devastating. I know the economy is rocky as it is, but for this to be added on that, it’s going to be even more drastic.”

Holland, who left the mill in 2002, said that he still has family members at IP.

“I’ve got an uncle who works over there, been there for years.” He said his uncle had about three more years before retirement.

Holland also expressed concern about the effect of the mill’s closure on the city’s economy.

“It’s going to put a big dent in the local economy. If it wasn’t for that mill this Hardee’s wouldn’t be here,” he said, standing in the restaurant’s parking lot on Second Avenue with a friend.

“You can’t keep beating a dead horse,” he said of the mill’s closure. “What can you do?”

Although layoffs have been a concern at the mill for years, Holland said that wasn’t the reason he left.

“I wanted to do something different,” he said. “I went and got my (commercial driver’s license).”

Damon Graydon, who works at Cole Fence in Franklin, said the company is already in the process of building a fence around the mill.

“We’re putting the fence up, closing the place in,” he said Thursday. “They just told us this morning and walked us around and told us what we would close in.”

He said that the fencing was being put up “to keep looters and stuff out.” Graydon said that he has family members who used to work at the mill and friends who still do.

Newsome said that he hopes things “turn around for the better.”

“I pray for the families that they find a way,” he said.

A number of past and present mill workers gathered at Fred’s Restaurant downtown Thursday afternoon.

“It’s horrible,” said Glenda Sterling, who stopped in at Fred’s Thursday evening. “I feel so sorry for the people, the younger people especially.”

Sterling said that her husband’s job causes him to bounce between the Franklin Mill and another International Paper mill.

He isn’t currently at the Franklin mill, but she’s still sorry for the people who will lose their jobs and concerned about the effect it will have on their families.

“I’ve talked to people that have two children in college,” she said.

Sterling can’t imagine Franklin without the mill.

“I’m 73, and it’s been there as long as I can remember,” she said.